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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-two THE THING BELOW

by
CLAYTON SMITH
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here’s something in the basement.



I don’t know what it is. But it makes a thumping noise. Nothing in our basement ever made a thumping noise before.



Thump. Thump. Thump.



Sometimes it moves from one side of the house to the other, slowly, and it gets all the way over to the steps. Then it’s quiet like it’s looking up at the door at the top of the stairs and thinking. Or deciding. But I don’t think it wants to climb the stairs because it always thumps back to the other side of the house.



If I stay up here, it can’t get me.



If I stay up here, I’ll be safe.



My brother Joey didn’t know what the thing was either, but he said he wasn’t scared. Said it was probably just the pipes and called me a baby. All day long, and all night, too, we heard it. Thump. Thump. Thump. Sometimes from right underneath us, and then it would stop, and we would listen.



And maybe it would listen to us.



I swear in those times, when it was quiet, I could hear it breathing. Sometimes I still hear it breathing.



Thump.



Thump.



Thump.



The thing is going to the bottom of the stairs more and more. It’s there right now. Waiting. Watching. I could run over there, throw open the door, shine a light, and see what the thing is, this thing that’s living in the basement. I could see what’s been lurking and thumping in the darkness of our house.



But I can’t. Because Joey was right. I am a baby.



I’m really, really scared.



But it doesn’t matter. The thing won’t climb the steps.



It just won’t.



If I stay up here, I’ll be safe.



I told Joey not to go down. I told him we should just stay upstairs, and we’d be okay. But he said that was dumb and called me a stupid little girl. It’ll come upstairs eventually, he said. It’ll come for us. But I told him I didn’t think it wanted to come upstairs. Because if it wanted to, it already would have, I think. Right? I think it already would have. But instead, it just goes to the bottom of the steps, and it doesn’t come up, and it just thumps back to its corner, and if we stay up here, we’re safe. But he said we shouldn’t just let the thing have the basement. At first, Joey said it was just an animal, probably, something that got hurt and found its way into our basement and needs to be put down. But it doesn’t sound like an animal. And there’s no other way into our basement except through the door in our kitchen.



I don’t know how the thing got down there. But I know it’s not an animal. It’s something that went down the steps and never came back up.



I told Joey not to go down, but he did it anyway. He took Daddy’s shotgun, even though we’re not supposed to touch it. We’re not allowed to know where he keeps the shells, either, but we do. I begged him not to go down, but he said enough is enough, and he opened the door and went down the steps, even though the light had burned out and he couldn’t see anything, and we couldn’t find a flashlight, and it was dark at the bottom of the stairs, so dark, and he couldn’t see anything. But enough is enough, he said, and he went down, and he closed the door behind him, and then he was the thing going thump, thump, thump, down the stairs in his heavy, muddy boots that Daddy wouldn’t want him wearing in the house. When he got to the bottom of the stairs, I couldn’t hear anything, and everything was quiet, except for my heart, which was loud like a drum, beating in my chest, but then I heard it, thump, thump, thump, the thing emerging from its corner and moving toward my brother, and thump, thump, thump, my brother moving closer to the thing, and then the thing’s feet moved faster, thump-thump-thump-thump, and then a shotgun blast, loud as a bomb, it shook the whole house, and then a scream. I don’t know if it was Joey or the thing, but it was a loud scream, and I guess I do know whose scream it was, I guess I really do know, because a few seconds later, after the screaming stopped and it was quiet for a while, there was the sound again, thump, thump, thump, and the creature went back to its corner, and Joey never came back upstairs, and that was almost three hours ago now.



I told him not to go down. I told him the thing wouldn’t climb stairs. I told him if we stay up here, we’re safe.



But he didn’t listen.



I should leave. I should pack my things in a suitcase and run away from this house. I should find the police, or maybe Aunt Judy. I could live with her, even though I don’t like her much, and she doesn’t like me much, either. She smells like old closets, and her food is always sour, but it’d be better than living with a thing in the basement.



I should leave. I should go.



But I can’t.



Daddy wouldn’t want me to abandon the house. Stake a claim, is what he’d say. What’s yours is yours. He’d be furious if I left the house in the control of the thing in the basement. It can’t come up here, he’d say, so why be afraid? And he’d be right. I stay up here, and the thing stays downstairs in the dark, and this is how we’ll live.



I miss Daddy. I don’t know where he went. I haven’t seen him in two days. That’s about when the thumping started. I try not to think about it. Or I try to think maybe he went off on one of his trips, and he’ll come back in a few days, dark circles under his eyes, and shaking a little, and smelling like sweat. I don’t like it when he goes on his trips, but this time, I hope he that’s what he did. I try not to think that maybe the thing got him like it got Joey.



But worse, I try not to think that maybe Daddy is the thing.



It’s moving again. Thump. Thump. Thump. It’s crossing the basement, and I know what it wants. It wants to come up here. It wants me. But I won’t go down, and it won’t come up.



Thump.



Thump.



Thump.



It’s at the bottom of the steps now, and it’s quiet. It’s waiting. It’s watching.



I could run to the door. I could open it. I could scream at the thing and try to show it that I’m not afraid. Sometimes I think I could just go down the stairs...that I should go down the stairs. Let the thing swallow me up and be done with it.



I want to. Then it’d be all over, and I wouldn’t have to hear it down there anymore. Wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore. I’m so tired. I can’t sleep, with all the thumping, and I’m so tired, and I keep seeing things that aren’t there, and hearing things too, slurping and giggling and growling and whispers. I want it to be over, but Daddy wouldn’t like that. Stake your claim, he’d say. What’s yours is yours.



I’ll stay upstairs. I’m safe up here.



But the thumping just started up again. And this time, I’m screaming.



Because the thing in the basement...



It’s coming up the stairs.



   
   

 

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Clayton Smith is the author of the novels Apocalypticon, Anomaly Flats, and Mabel Gray and the Wizard Who Swallowed the Sun. His short stories have appeared in Canyon Voices, The Write City Magazine, and Dumb White Husband, and he is a lecturer in the Business & Entrepreneurship Department at Columbia College Chicago.



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